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Sleep better in 2017

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COUNTING SHEEP Sleep is important for your health, mood and safety, but for almost half of us, it's hard to get. (Photo:

We know we are supposed to sleep six to eight hours a night. We’re aware of the facts: Better sleep equals better memory, better moods, increased happiness, decreased anxiety and depression and safer driving. And that’s just the beginning.

But for almost half of us, sleep is elusive. So much so that the Center for Disease Control calls sleep issues “a public health epidemic.” Multiple studies show that people who sleep less than the recommended amount are 7.5 times more likely to be overweight. They are also more likely to suffer from heart disease, diabetes, depression and memory issues. Still, for so many, we’re operating on less-than-optimal shut-eye.

“I have to force myself to stay in bed almost every night around 3 or 3:30,” says one 50-year-old entrepreneur. “I want to get up, because I’m wide awake. So I lay there and roll around and try to stay in bed as long as I can. And then I’ll finally get up and start emails or whatever else I need to do for work. If the paper is there, I’ll read it. But usually I have to wait for the paper because I’m up too early.”

The businessman, who asked to remain anonymous, says his sleep issues started six or eight years ago as a result of being extra busy at work. “I’m always thinking about work,” he says. “But then during the day, I’m exhausted. I feel tired and disconnected.”

Jennifer Guss understands the dilemma. As an internist who suffers with sleep, and as the mother of two children who do as well, Jennifer has heard it all.

“My mother will tell you I have been an insomniac since I was born,” she says. “It waxes and wanes for me with stress, but I am always a terrible sleeper.

“In my practice, I deal with sleep issues a lot. It’s a very common, big issue.” Jennifer is quick to point out that she is not officially a sleep expert, but between her patients, her children and herself, she has learned a lot.

“Without the right amount [of sleep] for your body, you won’t feel well. Your immune system needs sleep to function. If you’re tired, you get sick.”

Jennifer says the causes of not being able to sleep are different for different people. Some common ones: alcohol, caffeine, certain medications (both over-the-counter and prescription), stress, and heavy or fried foods. Another cause might be lack of exercise – your body should be physically tired enough to sleep.

If you’re looking to improve your sleep in 2017, Jennifer has a stable of tricks to try. “The first step,” she says, “and I follow this myself, is basic sleep hygiene. Don’t drink caffeine after noon. It affects us up to 12 hours later. Limit alcohol. Look through your medications to check for stimulants. And you don’t want to exercise right before bedtime.”

Jennifer says the bedroom should be “very dark, very quiet and cool. I sleep with my room at 69 degrees. I have major A/C bills, but it helps.” Keep your body warm, though. Jennifer suggests sleeping in socks or warm clothing. Another tip: white noise. “It tends to be helpful for a person who wakes in the middle of the night, by giving them something consistent to concentrate on.” Try a white noise app on a smartphone or buy a white noise machine at a store like Target or Sharper Image.

“If this first step doesn’t work, definitely talk with your physician to determine the cause of the issue,” Jennifer says. She says drugs like Tylenol PM and Unisom are safe for intermittent use and not habit-forming. What about prescription sleep aids? “Ambien, Lunesta, Xanax – these are safe to use as long as they’re safe for the individual and used very intermittently, less than three times a week, under the direction of a physician,” she says.

Above all, Jennifer says to stay calm. “Most people do not need uninterrupted sleep every night,” she says. “If you wake in the night, try not to be upset about the fact that you’re not sleeping.”

More tips on sleeping well from the experts:

• Take Melatonin or B-12 supplements.

• Read something boring in bed.

• Do not use blue lights – cell phones, TVs, computers – within two hours of bed or when waking in the middle of the night.

• Use lavender essential oils in a diffuser.

• Drink tart cherry juice twice a day.

• Incorporate seaweed and kiwi into your diet.

• Eat foods rich in magnesium, like leafy greens and almonds.

• Consider twin or separate-mattress beds if your partner keeps you awake.

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